Ask: Dear Cecil – Outdoor living spaces adds value to the home

Written by Cecil Messer. Posted in Dear Cecil, Featured, Home & Garden

Published on June 26, 2012 with No Comments

Dear Cecil,

My husband and I have recently become empty nesters. Hooray!! We are semi-retired and own our home. We love the location and we do not plan on moving. Both of us worked long hours. In between working we managed to raise a family. We never really got to enjoy the outdoors except for the few vacations we squeezed into our schedule. So now we plan on spending more time outside. We also entertain on occasion. Therefore, we are exploring the project of turning our patio into a family-friendly fun place.

Currently our patio door leads to a concrete slab-type surface. It has a small grill and some patio furniture on it. I would really like to change the look of this bland area. I saw brick patio pavers and thought that would look nice here. I was told that the concrete slabs had to be removed. We would also like an outdoor kitchen with an updated gas grill. A bar would be nice, too. On our wish list are a pool and a privacy fence. A lot is going to depend on costs. Our neighbors have opted to do their own renovations. To date, they have spent over $25,000. It seems like they did not get a lot for their money and every time I see them they are constantly doing maintenance. This year they had to reseal the deck. It is only two years old.

We are not the handiest and need our outdoor area to be maintenance-free and practical as possible. I know this project can cost a lot but I see what the neighbors got and it wasn’t a lot. My son suggested that we inquire about hiring a professional contractor to do the work. He said we might be saving money in the future as a contractor would steer us in the right direction.

We are really in the dark. Can you put us on the right track?

Arlene and Bob, Valparaiso

Dear Arlene and Bob,

Of course, I like the idea of hiring a competent contractor. However, I am a big advocate of buying good quality merchandise at affordable prices and doing the work yourself. A good contractor doesn’t look at do-it-yourselfers as competition, as they have plenty of business due to their reputation. So, with that said let me help you out a bit.

Each year, more homeowners are spending a lot of money on outdoor projects. The outdoor kitchen is one of the most frequent installed projects. Today, more home remodels are being done than any time in the past 12 years. Due to the downturn in the real estate market, remodeling is up 11 percent over last year. Many homeowners are holding on to their property, waiting for the upswing. The smart ones are making improvements. Many have just opted to improve the comfort zones within their environment. It is becoming more common to concentrate on the exterior grounds.

Let’s tackle some of the issues that face you now. In your case, your son is right. A general contractor would likely be a wise decision. Research and find one that has a proven record in reconstructing outdoor living spaces. This will definitely save you time and money. It’s a no-brainer that you would save time; now, how about the money?

A lot can happen in this phase. In most cases, hiring a contractor gets the homeowner “more bang for the buck”. Usually a better quality of product is used.  That’s a money saver. You only pay for the merchandise needed to complete the project.  Another money saver.

A general contractor is one-stop shopping, with plumbing, gas, and electric work usually cheaper than hiring individuals to perform each task. (Money saver.) The general contractor will chase down all permits needed.  (Money saver.) A general contractor will draw out your project and plan it at no cost.  (Money saver.)  At the end, they will clean the area and haul the debris.  Yet another money saver.

Start with planning. You do the first steps. Write down a budget figure and put it away. On a separate paper, draw a line vertically down the middle. To the left side, list your needs; on the right, your wants for this project. When you meet with your general contractor, discuss the paper. He will probably add some items to the needs side. Then he will start putting them together as far as practicality and cost.

For your project I already know what you want. Let’s begin with the patio. First, put to bed the expense of removing the concrete. You do NOT need to do this. (See, you are already saving.) Resurfacing pavers can be used. They are a thinner profile and a mason is not necessary for the installation. The paver grid installation is four-times faster than concrete, no special cutting tools needed, and is maintenance free.

Installing a gas pipe connection to the grill area will need to be done according to local and state codes. This is not expensive when a general does the work. Then, install the plumbing, water and drains. (Note: Ensure that your contractor is licensed in these areas.)

Next, set the kitchen in place. Stainless steel cabinets have been the norm but powder coat colors are in vogue. Black and earth tones are the prevailing colors.

Then, select the grill.  This can become a tricky process. Space will be an issue so choose wisely. Do NOT cut corners when selecting your grill. Your total satisfaction of the project centers to this, the most important item.

The layout of the kitchen is in a triangle, just like indoors. Convenience of water and appliances does not cost extra. Moving them later, however, can be. Select all-weather material for the counter top. Additional backsplash usually does not add cost if done at time of installation. Be careful here to select according to quality and price. Your general will help you decide. Specialty items such as a ceramic smoker can be installed.

Seating is another important area. A lot can be done to enhance the space. Besides the patio furniture, benches with storage space beneath can be built. A beautiful way to spruce things up is to place flower boxes in between, preferably every six to eight feet.  Colorful foliage really adds to the aesthetics.

When building the bar, I suggest masonry. Match it to the kitchen décor. Use concrete or tile for the bar top and brick for bar sides. There is a gorgeous product called Nova Brick that is maintenance-free and very affordable. Your contractor will know the exact distance to the top of the counter.  Add anodized aluminum or powder coated iron stools.

A fire pit is getting to be another popular item. You can place it anywhere you prefer. Equally popular is the patio heater. This little item extends the season of use for your patio. They really work well and are quite cost efficient.

Lighting is another inexpensive, pleasing décor aesthetic. Do not overdo it here. I have seen some gaudy work in this area.   A warning to the wise: don’t overload your outlet. If needed, add another breaker separate of others. Buy some solar generated driveway lights for the perimeter ground around the patio. It looks sharp, doesn’t cost much, and emits just enough light.

Do not forget the pesky insects, both the flying kind and the creepy crawly ones. There are many inexpensive ways to ward them away. There are gas-powered, electric-powered, battery operated and even computer-generated insect control system. Whichever you choose, make sure it will do the job at the least amount of expense while providing good coverage.

Now with all the money you have saved, go ahead and look into that privacy fence. The most common is the pressure-treated wood stockade type. Maintenance on this is minimal with a good oiling applied about every five years. Totally maintenance-free fencing material is vinyl.  It is a little more costly but lasts a lifetime. As the saying goes, vinyl is final.

Owning a pool is a luxury that has become more affordable over the years. Most installations are done in a day. However, there is some routine maintenance. Adding chemicals weekly is quite simple. If you want a pool, don’t deny yourself. It is easy and affordable.

An important feature when purchasing materials for this outdoor project is to be sure your products can resist UV (ultraviolet) sun rays. I have seen the sun ruin some good looking outdoor products. Always check to see if what you are purchasing is all weather and pest resistant. Most important is that these items require very little maintenance.

I hope this helped.  Enjoy your new outdoor kitchen and the upcoming summer days ahead.


Share This Article

About Cecil Messer

All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Cecil Messer started general contracting in 1986 and has been a full-time general contractor since 1993. He is a window and door design specialist as well as an interior and exterior home consultant. He has lectured at Indiana University about business sociology and received the only award given by the Better Business Bureau to a home consultant. Cecil is the owner of Midwest Remodeling Windows and Doors located in Portage. You may write to him at 208 Elm Street, Valparaiso, IN 46383 or e-mail him at

Browse Archived Articles by

No Comments

There are currently no comments on Ask: Dear Cecil – Outdoor living spaces adds value to the home. Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.